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Shit is happening

April 14, 2012

It’s been a while since I last wrote. In that time, someone very close to me and Mr NS has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Most people have some experience of this kind of phase-changing thing. One minute, you’re worrying about whether the mince will have defrosted by the time you get home, the next you’re trying to think of the least horrendous way of telling your husband that apparently his dad’s got cancer. Somehow you’re also still supposed to care about the mince.

We’ve been caring about the mince for about two-and-a-half months now. From the disbelieving, freeze-frame horror of having to hear and share surreal news on the first day (news that is incomplete, ambiguous), all time that follows is suffused with a sense of altered reality. In this new world, you remember the bits from before, and everyday things still nibble and gnaw as they do, but it’s all a shade greyer than before. Around the edges, your existence is tempered by the knowledge that things are not the same.

He’s going to die, you think. But we all are. The difference being, he will likely (but not necessarily) die before us, and probably of a cause he knows. You can think it, say it, but as for getting any further than that, then I don’t know. Clichees pour involuntarily from our mouths as responses, as they do from people we tell about what’s happening. Everyone has their equivalent doom stories, which, reflexively, are offered. As comfort? Empathy? Does it help?

Ultimately though, it’s not about what we think, at least not now. It’s about trying to be supportive in a situation that is pretty much the worst it gets in terms of things you don’t want to happen to you.

In the new world, a phone ringing is no longer a generally neutral event. Going out for a coffee together is classified as a significant achievement. Eating becomes a segregated, tortuous, awkward necessity.

Suddenly, life is palpably more finite, yet how can you conceivably decide what to do with that still unquantified time? What can anyone do to help?

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